Understanding the effectiveness and mechanisms of a social prescribing service: a mixed method analysis
WOODALL James, et al
Background: Evidence of the effectiveness of social prescribing is inconclusive causing commissioning challenges. This research focusses on a social prescribing scheme in Northern England which deploys ‘Wellbeing Coordinators’ who offer support to individuals, providing advice on local groups and services in their community. The research sought to understand the outcomes of the service and, in addition, the processes which supported delivery. Methods: Quantitative data was gathered from service users at the point they entered the service and also at the point they exited. Qualitative interviews were also undertaken with service users to gather further understanding of the service and any positive or negative outcomes achieved. In addition, a focus group discussion was also conducted with members of social prescribing staff to ascertain their perspectives of the service both from an operational and strategic perspective. Results: In total, 342 participants provided complete wellbeing data at baseline and post stage and 26 semi-structured qualitative interviews were carried out. Improvements in participants’ well-being, and perceived levels of health and social connectedness as well as reductions in anxiety was demonstrated. In many cases, the social prescribing service had enabled individuals to have a more positive and optimistic view of their life often through offering opportunities to engage in a range of hobbies and activities in the local community. The data on reductions in future access to primary care was inconclusive. Some evidence was found to show that men may have greater benefit from social prescribing than women. Some of the processes which increased the likelihood of success on the social prescribing scheme included the sustained and flexible relationship between the service user and the Wellbeing Coordinator and a strong and vibrant voluntary and community sector. Conclusions: Social prescribing has the potential to address the health and social needs of individuals and communities. This research has shown a range of positive outcomes as a result of service users engaging with the service. Social prescribing should be conceptualised as one way to support primary care and tackle unmet needs.